3 Questions for Dealing With A Loved One’s Things After They Die

My great-grandmother recently passed away. She was a sweet, caring and feisty woman whose mind remained sharp throughout her 93 years. We all loved her very much.

Since she lived in Canada and many close family members live far away, we needed to go through her things after the memorial service. We went back to her apartment and decided who would take what. It was an odd experience, being surrounded by all of her things but knowing she was not there.

I’ve already written about how we are not our stuff. It seems harder to separate a person and their possessions when you are dealing with the belongings of a loved one. Each item takes on extra significance and feels like a way to connect. Giving up items feels like giving up the person. The very idea of tossing something can be full of guilt and fear.

The thing to remember is that all of these items have the same potential to give a feeling of connection, but not all of them are useful, beautiful or fit into your life the way they fit into the life of the person who owned them.

If you are in the process of sorting through a loved one’s belongings, here are some questions for working through these memory & emotion filled items:

1. Which items would I enjoy looking at or using on a regular basis?
In addition to some small kitchen items, I inherited my great-grandmother’s china. I love the pattern and plan to use them regularly. We sent our old dishes to Goodwill and just received her dishes to take their place. Is there something you could integrate into your life and enjoy?

2. Will I be able to give this item the love and respect I feel it deserves?
If this item truly is a memento of your loved one, it should have a place of value and be cared for properly. Not forgotten in a storage unit or stashed away in a box in the garage. If you realize you can’t or won’t be able to do so – consider giving it to other relatives who might be able to or donating it to a local charity.

3. What are other options for displaying or using this item?
Be creative. Just because this item was used or displayed in one way doesn’t mean that you have to use or display it in the same way. In his book, It’s All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff, Peter Walsh suggests cutting a piece from a well-worn garment and framing it alongside a photo of your loved one wearing the item and a short explanation/story. I think this could be beautiful.

Choose wisely, allow yourself to let go of the things that don’t really fit your life and enjoy the items that do. Hold on to the things that you are happy to see and fill you with good memories (not guilt). Those are the keepsakes and memories worth keeping.

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(photo by Christopher Gendron)

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